June discussion: Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins

First off, big ups to BookAtlas where I found this funky Penguin cover.  Check BookAtlas out if you get a chance; it’s pretty neat, they post the first/last lines of the books with some quotes.

Sorry that I’m running a bit late again.  The thing is . . . I took practically no notes at our discussion of Beautiful Ruins! It wasn’t that we didn’t have plenty to talk about either.  We had a great turn out and everybody definitely felt something for this novel.  Several of the steepers weren’t able to finish the book, in fact, Tara (who chose the book for us) admitted that this was her third attempt at reading the novel.

Many of us stumbled over the jumps in time, place, and perspective.  I shared with the group that I found my footing when I considered the novel as a book of short stories with a common thread. I stopped trying to read it like a novel and considered each piece individually.  I have to admit that in this case, it gave me not only a more enjoyable read (I liked it better than most), but a more critical read once I stopped just trying to get through it.

We all pretty much agreed that the book is filled with unlikeable characters who do pretty terrible things.  The funny thing was that it was those of us who appreciated the reality that some people are pretty terrible and do pretty terrible things that enjoyed the book the best.  I recently reread The Great Gatsby, one of my all-time least favorite novels.  It’s a book I loathed on my first go-around because I didn’t find a single redeeming quality in 99% of the characters.  In my second reading, I had a better understanding that I’m not supposed to find redeeming qualities in some of those people.  They’re just terrible.  In Beautiful Ruins, at least most of the people had something to recommend them, they just were incredibly flawed.

I think it says something for our group that the majority of those who didn’t complete the book decided that they would try again due to our conversation.  If my fair readers here choose to jump into the book, I definitely recommend getting a copy that includes Jess Walter’s supplementary material at the end.  I enjoyed that stuff almost more than the book.

If nothing else, the steepers had fun discussing Donner! the Donner Party movie pitched by character Shane.  We laughed since I simply couldn’t say Donner! without the exclamation point and accompanying jazz hands.

Other funny parts of our evening included the letter from Steeper George who travels in the summer.  He mails me his thoughts and it started with “Beautiful Ruins was difficult to read because . . .” followed by a list.   He wasn’t a fan. The only thing I wrote in my notes about our discussion was, “Everything I say is genius.” Of course, being a few weeks removed, I don’t remember what that was in reference to.  It could be me simply saying that everything I say is genius, or that the characters thought that (cause many did).  Who knows?

We were blessed with a visit from former steeper Colleen who recently moved to Saint Louis, but was in town for work.  Such a treat to get to see her with her adorable baby bump.  Hmmm, I’ll have to make a Read It & Steep onesie . . .

We also enjoyed that Mr. Walter favorited our post on twitter.  Woot!


Brilliant steeper Kristin did the averaging math in her head, people, in her head.  The opinions on this book (by those who finished it) ran from a dismal 1.5 teacup to a 3.5 teacup.  The average came out to 2.8, but since I don’t have the math skills to have an image of 2.8 teacups, we’re just going to round that sucker up to 3.

3 teacups


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